Originally publish at nytimes.com by JUDY D’MELLO on March 16, 2003
NEW Yorkers have not dusted off their long-unused fallout shelters, but some are getting the brooms ready.
These cold war relics, often no more than an empty basement corner, were turned into bike rooms, storage areas, wine cellars and gyms in the post-fear years. The ubiquitous yellow-and-black signs that mark shelter locations are now covered with grime and graffiti.
“I’ve lived in this building for 10 years and only recently saw the sign next to a locked door near the laundry room,” said a Greenwich Village resident whose request for anonymity is a sign of newly tense times. “The super told me it was his workshop.”
Now, after dark warnings of possible attacks with “dirty bombs” and other weapons, she says the building should refurbish the room and stock essentials like water, medical supplies and a radio.
James O’Connor, executive vice president of Insignia Residential Group, which manages 300 buildings in the region, confirmed that there is a renewed interest in these onetime safe rooms. After the recent Code Orange alert, he said, many residents in Insignia buildings met to discuss reactivating ex-fallout shelters.
Some New Yorkers did more than just talk.
“We’ve had a lot of calls from architects, engineers and consumers in New York City,” said Walton McCarthy, president of Radius Engineering, a New Hampshire manufacturer of bomb shelters. Since the Code Orange episode, he said, sales of its air-purifying system have risen 40 percent — many to wealthy Manhattan residents. “For $30,000 to $130,000,” Mr. McCarthy said, “we can modernize any building’s fallout shelter to meet a standard for survival from 21st-century warfare.”
Amir Chaluts, a developer who is working on six high-end residential buildings, all 12 stories, in the financial district, Chelsea and the Upper East Side, has discussed installing fallout shelters in them with Security USA of Oakland, Calif. “It would be another amenity that we provide: marble bathrooms, gyms and a buildingwide safe room,” said Mr. Chaluts, who is from Israel and familiar with safety measures there.
Some New Yorkers are noticing they live in buildings without the space for a shelter.
“I wish my building had one,” said Pamela Power, who lives in a five-story co-op building on West 85th Street, “since the unthinkable isn’t unthinkable anymore.”